Many analysis of global power and being a superpower often compare nations or regional power blocs based upon who would win or lose in an all out military conflict.
Nations and groups can also analyze situations and potential conflicts and they would choose to avoid engaging in conflicts where their side would be a clear cut loser.
The first and second Iraq Gulf War were relatively unique situations where there was a large miscalculation by Saddam Hussein.
World War 2 and World War 1 had some miscalculations. There was an over-estimation by Germany and Japan of their own military and economic capabilities and an under-estimation of the resolve of opponents and how well opposing forces would adapt and learn.
Now a days there are several questions
1. the rise of China and is China a superpower
2. in a decade or two it will about the rise of India.
3. There is also the problems in assessing Russia and Europe.
4. There is also the issue of addressing terrorism and the problems in the Middle East.
China and Pakistan have had sufficient nuclear deterrent for many decades to deter any all out attack by other nations.
The USA, Russia have long been the dominant nuclear powers and have been the top two powers in terms of conventional forces.
There is no near term situation where the technological and military situation would shift whereby the USA or Russia could not deter any rational nuclear attack. US and european conventional military capability will not effectively challenged for decades. This means the first 2 questions are of academic interest only.
Russia’s conventional capability eroded during the 80s and 90s to the point where they had trouble asserting dominance in Georgia and other small conflicts. The USA also had problems in Vietnam. Both have had problems in Afghanistan and the middle east.
Russia and the USA both had to re-organize, get the right military equipment and develop precision military capabilities to be able to more effectively assert regional military force in the middle east and for Russia in the Ukraine. In straight up standard regional wars, Russia has shown capabilities in Syria and the US is decisive in battles.
The drawn out US conflicts in the Middle east and dealing with terrorism show that despite the ability to decisively win military battles, the US has not been able to uses military capability to cost effectively address terrorism or to dictate the political situation in the Middle east using its military or economic power.
Communism containment and the Marshall Plan
After WW2, Stalin was ordering the creation of a communist puppet regime in the Soviet sector of occupied Germany. How many dominoes would fall? United States diplomats saw a continent ravaged by war looking for strong leadership and aid of any sort, providing a climate ripe for revolution.
Greece and Turkey were the first nations spiraling into crisis that had not been directly occupied by the Soviet Army. Both countries were on the verge of being taken over by Soviet-backed guerrilla movements. Truman decided to draw a line in the sand. In March 1947, he asked Congress to appropriate $400 million to send to these two nations in the form of military and economic assistance. Within two years the communist threat had passed, and both nations were comfortably in the western sphere of influence.
A mid-level diplomat in the State Department named George Kennan proposed the policy of containment. Since the American people were weary from war and had no desire to send United States troops into Eastern Europe, rolling back the gains of the Red Army would have been impossible.
Middle East terrorism and radicalism containment and Economically raising Africa, South Asia, Middle East
The US has tried using mostly military power to deal with terrorism and radicalism and opposing political forces in mainly the middle east (although it is also in the Philippines and other places). This effort has been less than effective and definitely not cost effective.
The US could look at containment and trying to cost effectively sway undesired influence where possible.
A more economically aggressive campaign could be used to bolster desired areas. This should be done in conjunction with China and its One Belt and One Road plan.
It seems that China and the USA can be aligned to economic competition and economic cooperation.
The goal would be support nations and political forces that were more anti-terrorism and pro-economic development.